Maturing Alvarez fueling Pittsburgh’s playoff push
There’s a sound that comes off Pedro Alvarez’s bat when the
Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman is feeling it that can send a jolt
through a stadium and a franchise trying to escape two decades of
It’s not so much a ”crack” as it is an explosion, a blast of
fury in which the 25-year-old former first-round pick makes sending
pitches to the distant part of ballparks look almost
It’s the kind of power that can carry a team, the kind the
Pirates have desperately needed while fighting for their first
postseason berth in two decades.
Alvarez drilled three homers and drove in seven runs during a
spectacular 27-hour stretch on Tuesday and Wednesday as the Pirates
posted a pair of shutout wins over St. Louis to end a perilous
freefall and pull back within a game of the Cardinals for the NL’s
final wild card spot.
”Every once awhile when he shows up like that he’s the big kid
on the playground,” Hurdle said.
One the Pirates need to be a bully over the last five weeks of
the season if they want to make the playoffs for the first time
since 1992. While MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen has cooled off in
August, Alvarez and Garrett Jones have provided the middle of the
lineup with some needed thump.
Alvarez is hitting .280 during the season’s second half and has
already smashed a career-high 26 home runs heading into Friday’s
game in Milwaukee. While he remains streaky – Alvarez is fourth in
the NL in home runs per at bats but has also endured a pair of
20-game homerless droughts – when he’s hot he’s one of the toughest
outs in the game.
It’s a lesson St. Louis pitcher Joe Kelly learned on Wednesday.
He tried to sneak an 82 mph curveball past Alvarez in the third
inning, and Alvarez turned on it and sent a shot to the right field
seats so quickly his bat had barely hit the ground when the ball
landed 400 feet away.
”He’s the kind of player that you just can’t pattern,” St.
Louis manager Mike Matheny said. ”Joe threw a breaking ball and
most guys are sitting dead red in that situation. He’s hit some
good off-speed pitches against us. It’s not like we’re just tossing
the ball up there.”
Alvarez doesn’t have an explanation for why he torched the
Cardinals this season, hitting .398 with seven homers and 23 RBIs
in 15 games against the defending world champions. He’s not really
concerned about finding one either.
”The thing about comfort is that you don’t really think much
when you’re up there and you feel comfortable,” Alvarez said.
”When comfort and confidence go hand-in-hand, it does a lot for
Getting into a comfort zone, however, has been difficult for the
soft-spoken kid who grew up in New York City. The Pirates made him
the second overall pick in the 2008 draft hoping his power and PNC
Park’s short right-field porch would make a good combination.
It did, at least initially. He smacked 16 homers in 95 games
after being called up in 2010 but struggled to stay healthy and get
on base a year ago. Alvarez hit .191 with four home runs and 19
RBIs last season, getting booed while meekly dribbling grounders as
the Pirates went through a late-summer swoon that sent them to
their 19th straight losing season.
The team encouraged Alvarez to play in the Arizona Fall League
to refine his swing. Instead he chose to work out alone, a decision
that did little to assure a fan base he wasn’t another high-profile
A slow start this spring didn’t help. Alvarez’s batting average
didn’t creep over .200 until April 30. Then, the switch suddenly
flipped. He started spraying the ball all over the field, and
perhaps the biggest proof of his newfound maturity at the plate
came in the third inning on Tuesday night against St. Louis.
With McCutchen on second and two outs, Alvarez took a Jake
Westbrook pitch and hit it into the seats in the notch in
left-center field that serves as the deepest part of PNC Park. It
was only the fourth time a left-handed batter had gone deep over
the 410-foot sign.
The solo blast Alvarez hit three innings later, a 469-foot shot
to right-center that Hurdle joked was going to ”hit the (Roberto)
Clemente Bridge” was just gravy.
”It might have been one of those `ah-ha’ games for Pedro,”
Hurdle said. ”’This is why I work so hard. This is why I put all
the extra effort in. This is why I want to be special in this
The teammates who watched Alvarez shoulder much of the blame for
last year’s collapse are the same ones who rush to the edge of the
dugout each time they hear the thunderous sound Alvarez’s bat makes
when he’s locked in.
Now he’s helping lead a charge for a team that insists it’s not
fading anytime soon.
”These guys love to play,” Hurdle said. ”They love the
challenges in front of them. We’re not trying to be slaves to the
history that’s here. We’re trying to create new history.”